Parlimentary Reply by Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Dr Yaacob Ibrahim to Parliamentary Question on the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference
Title: Copenhagen Climate Change Conference (key achievements and implications)
2. Assoc Prof Paulin Tay Straughan asked the Minister for the Environment and Water Resources (a) what are the key achievements of the 2009 Copenhagen Climate Change Conference; (b) what are the implications for ASEAN and Singapore; and (c) whether there are plans to advance environment-friendly practices in Singapore.
The Minister for the Environment and Water Resources (Dr Yaacob Ibrahim): Mr Speaker, Sir, the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference was held from 7th to 18th December 2009. As is now well-known, it was not able to achieve the widely expected political framework agreement leading to a legally binding outcome in 2010. Instead, countries agreed to extend the mandate of the work into this year and present the outcome at the next Climate Change Conference in Mexico in December 2010. In addition, countries also “took note” of the significant political deal struck by a small group of Leaders on the last day of the Conference. As such, it has yet to be adopted as a formal agreement.
Sir, this political deal, called the Copenhagen Accord, outlines the key elements of long-term goals, mitigation, financing, adaptation and technology transfer, and calls for developed and developing countries to state their commitments and actions respectively in appendices. While the Accord itself is not perfect, it provides a step in the direction of arriving at a global legally binding framework agreement to address climate change. At the Conference, Singapore supported the Accord as a basis to move forward from Copenhagen.
It is premature to assess the implications of the outcome from the Copenhagen meetings, because quite frankly, there was no significant outcome or broad consensus on the key substantive issues. As such, countries will have to redouble their efforts in the coming months to try and overcome their differences in order to reach a global agreement this year. Notwithstanding this, Sir, climate change is a key issue for many ASEAN countries as we are collectively and individually vulnerable to the adverse impact of global warming. ASEAN leaders have recognised the importance of a legally binding international agreement to address climate change. This is reflected by the participation of several ASEAN leaders in the Copenhagen Conference to show support for the global effort. In November 2007, ASEAN leaders had endorsed the ASEAN Declaration on Environmental Sustainability, committing to the goal of addressing climate change and preventing dangerous changes to the world’s climate system. ASEAN Environment Ministers have also endorsed the Terms of Reference of the ASEAN Climate Change Initiative and established an ASEAN Working Group on Climate Change, so as to enhance cooperation and collaboration between ASEAN countries on actions to address climate change.
As part of a global agreement, Singapore has committed to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions in 2020 by 16 per cent from the Business-As-Usual (BAU) scenario. This commitment, Sir, is contingent on significant actions being taken by all countries and their implementation in good faith. While a legally binding agreement was not achieved in Copenhagen, Singapore will nevertheless commence to implement the mitigation and energy efficiency measures already announced under the Sustainable Singapore Blueprint in April 2009. These will amount to approximately a 7 per cent to 11 per cent reduction of emissions below BAU by 2020. These measures under the Blueprint form part of the 16 per cent reduction below BAU. When a global agreement on climate change is reached, we will implement the additional measures to achieve the full 16 per cent reduction below BAU in 2020.
Singapore has since independence taken several actions to develop in an environmentally sustainable manner, without which our island state would not have been liveable given our small size and high population density. These actions have gone hand-in-hand with our economic growth. The measures under the Sustainable Singapore Blueprint measures will continue in this vein and enhance sustainable economic growth in Singapore, while promoting environmentally friendly practices such as increasing the public transport modal split and energy efficient Green Buildings.
Assoc Prof Paulin Tay Straughan (Nominated Member): I have three supplementary questions. First, with regard to our status as an island, I hope the Minister can give us an update on the data that his Ministry may have privy to about rising sea levels, and whether as Singaporeans living in this island-state, we should be concerned. Second, any initiatives to promote environmental sustainability will require lifestyle changes. Could the Minister please elaborate on any initiative that his Ministry might have in the pipeline to raise awareness for recycling and eco-friendly practices and change lifestyles of Singaporeans. My final supplementary question, Sir, from the limited research I have done, it seems like observers are very optimistic that we should be able to achieve the 16% target that he mentioned. Is there any secret plan to raise this a little higher?
Dr Yaacob Ibrahim: Thank you very much for the three questions. As regards the first question on rising sea level, I cannot recall but I had reported in Parliament last year during the Budget debate of a preliminary study that we have done, based on the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The data showed that, based on our current platform level, we are all right. But we are now going further in terms of the study. We have actually obtained more data to understand better its impact over the longer term. The study is subject to international peer review to ensure that there is enough rigour and robustness. So, I hope Prof. Straughan can wait. If we complete the study this year, we will announce to the public the response measures that we have in place to deal with some of these challenges to our small island.
I just want to assure the public and Members of the House that our initial study showed that we should not be overly concerned about the rising sea level. But we will continue to update our study. The Fifth Assessment Report comes out in about four years’ time and therefore we will update it and see what are the things that we need to do.
To her second question, part of my answer will be in the next answer to Nominated Member (NMP) Mrs Mildred Tan. But, briefly, there are already programmes in place, not only by NEA but other Government agencies, to ensure that Singaporeans transit to more environment-friendly lifestyle practices. She mentioned recycling. Member of Parliament, Dr Lim Wee Kiak, for example, had yesterday started a pilot scheme to increase the number of recycling bins within his constituency to encourage Singaporeans to recycle a bit more. Apart from that, the Ministry of Transport is looking into how they can encourage more Singaporeans to take public transport, and to facilitate this through greater rail connectivity with buses and other forms of public transport. These are the changes which are in place, taken by the Government across several agencies. I will elaborate on this later in my reply to NMP Mrs Mildred Tan.
The Member’s final question is on the target of 16 per cent. First of all, we must bear in mind that this figure that we have come up with is credible, based on the conditions in which we are subjected to. We do not have a lot of alternatives to energy sources. There is not enough wind in Singapore, nor solar power, and we do not have geothermal or hydro power. At the end of the day, whatever we do, we must do within the natural resources that we have. As I mentioned earlier, the additional measures that we have taken are on top of what has been mentioned at the Sustainable Singapore Blueprint (SSB). The 16 per cent, as the Member rightly pointed out, is doable; and it is credible. On top of that, we are not an Annex 1 country; and therefore, we have no historical responsibility, but we do this because we want to be a responsible member of the international community and contribute to the on-going efforts to reduce greenhouse gases. We will continue to monitor this. As Members know, technology will improve and over time, if there are other ways in which we can do things better to reduce our energy consumption and be more efficient, we will do that. So, at the moment, there is no secret, our target is 16 per cent. But the agencies are monitoring this very closely, especially in terms of technology development.
We are investing in solar energy, even though we have pointed out that we may not have the ability to trap a lot of solar power. But, one day, if solar energy becomes at par with conventional energy, then we are ready to take on the opportunities. We will continue to invest and learn. And as we improve, we can do more, and we will certainly do so. But we must not forget that whatever we do, it must not be at the expense of our economic growth. Because, if we do not have the growth, we will not have the resources to do the things that we want to do. We have to calibrate and balance that properly.
Mr Speaker: Mdm Ho, last question.
Mdm Ho Geok Choo: I would like to ask the Minister two questions: one, what are the industries in Singapore that actually emit the most greenhouse gases and what steps are being taken to reduce these emissions? Related to this, of course, would be to what extent will the reduction of these emissions affect our economic growth? Second question: Indeed, if our coastal areas were to be submerged, what is the time-frame if such a calamity should occur, and what steps are being taken to remedy this scenario?
Dr Yaacob Ibrahim: Let me first answer the second question. Frankly, nobody knows and the timeline is very long. As I mentioned in my earlier response to the supplementary question, our initial study showed that we should not be concerned. But the various agencies are taking measures and studying this very carefully. For example, we know that there is some soil erosion on the East Coast and, I believe, URA, together with NParks, is working on how to strengthen this. But, at the end of the day, the most important thing is for us to continue to upgrade our understanding of the phenomenon. As more data and studies become available, I think it should put us in a better position. I would just like to assure the House that within the Government and within NEA, there is a unit that studies this very carefully across various agencies, so that we also build up our own capacity and our capability in terms of understanding the impact of climate change on Singapore.
To the Member’s first question – which industries emit most of the greenhouse gases. We know that there is a large petrochemical sector in Singapore. But the most important thing is that we work with the industry very closely. At the end of the day, whatever that we do, as mentioned earlier, it must not impact our economic growth. So, the various agencies have been working together and ensuring that industries understand where we are coming from, so that whatever we do or whatever we want them to do, they do it in a manner which is to preserve jobs, preserve our economic growth, and switch over to more efficient technologies which are available in the market.
Sir, let me just give Members some examples. We have worked with some companies within the pharmaceutical sectors where they have moved towards tri-generation where within their own premises they have generated electricity, water and steam for their own purposes. By doing so, they reap greater efficiency, and reduce our carbon footprint. So, these are the things in which we should do with the industries and find ways in which they can continue to do business in Singapore in a cost-effective manner, yet at the same time reduce the greenhouse gas emissions. As I mentioned earlier, this has to be balanced carefully. I want to assure the House that the various agencies are working very closely with the industries so that we can meet our 16 per cent target, if there is a global agreement.